He is, suddenly, driving down the freeway.
He grips the steering wheel and rakes terrified fingers through his memory, sifting for the recent past, and comes up empty.
He inventories the moment in which he finds himself . . . 75 miles an hour . . . half a tank of gas . . . the radio crackling angry static . . . the stench of urine . . . a photograph of a dark-haired woman swinging from the rearview mirror on a string of crystal beads, her face frozen in time if not in space.
Easing his foot off the gas, he signals a lane change to the right, settles in behind a semi-truck.
He reaches to spin the radio dial to music, and a broken voice snakes its ragged body through the car, curls its seductive sharded tail around his neck as it lures him with offers of dirt.
There is nothing to be done about the urine; he opens the window and breathes deeply of the early dusk’s dry warmth.
The woman watches him as she glints and arcs through his vision, captured in lucite amber, a once-upon-a-time version of his used-to-be wife.
The voice sings of the end of times as the day’s shadows lengthen and he travels forward into the unknown of the evening’s darkness.
As he travels forward into the unknown from the unknown.
Is he drunk? Was he drunk? He can’t remember. He tastes only the thickness of sleep and stale smoke upon his tongue, but he is often drunk with no real awareness of having arrived at this state, so perhaps.
He cranes to read the signs along the freeway . . . he is more than a hundred miles from home. Funny how he has both made and missed this journey. Funny how he uses the word “home,” when what he means is simply the place from which he is too scared to move.
He is more than a hundred miles from the place that holds him.
The song ends and he reaches to fill the car with silence.
He tries to collect himself, tries to gather and assemble the pieces of his past, but his memory seems to have shattered like safety glass from within. The pebbled bits of glass are sharp enough to cut him only if he holds them tight, and so he does not, instead opening his fingers to let their bits of luminescence spill in a musical shower of grief and loss. He glimpses bits of disconnected sparkle as his memory cascades before him . . . the crooked smile of a woman, a small dented band of gold, dark liquids poured and sloshed, darker thicker warmer liquids spewed and ribboned, a rusted tricycle, a crossword puzzle done in pen, borders and boundaries crossed and cut, writhing smoke and handcuffed harm, the smell of bleach and greed and subservience, the pounding on a door and the pounding of flesh, eyes the color of disappointment and resignation, neck stretched taut in ecstasy, shadows, light, a turning away that has lasted a lifetime, capable hands that accomplish nothing, the quality and ache of silence, a lifetime in pursuit of nothingness and the handful of dirt he has to show for it.
Tears run down his face as he realizes his entire life is this drive.
A journey he has both made and missed.
He will simply step from the car.
He glances at the speedometer . . . 68 miles per hour.
He will simply step from the car.
Into the neverending darkness.
He stares into the back of the semi-truck he has been following, waiting for some line, some visible crack or mark, to pass beneath the truck and approach him. He figures he is about three seconds behind the truck, and so he will have three seconds before his car passes over the finish line. He will simply step from the car at the end of his journey.
He stares into the back of the semi-truck, waiting to press his chest forward into the ribbon of his own blood.
A single final victory.
There is a sudden unexpected fluttering movement and a whirling dark shape flies through the air, shot up from beneath the truck’s left rear wheels. He does not count, because the thing is coming for him, cutting the seconds in half, spinning and slicing through the air before slamming itself against the glass of his windshield.
He stares into the sudden opaque blackness, driving blind, his vision blocked by a child’s life-jacket.
Breathless with the almost of his end, he reaches.
With shaking fingers, he reaches forward through his open window to grasp at the life-jacket, his fingertips brushing the roughened end of a nylon strap, the plastic of a buckle, the solidity of the buoyancy within. As his fingers close and pull, the wind whips beneath the body of the life-jacket and it is ripped from his hand. He watches in his rear-view mirror as it flies up and over his car, his eyes seeking its pinwheeled shadowed flight in the dusk behind him.
She watches with him as what he leaves behind recedes.
He runs a finger over the memory of her face and then unwraps her strand of crystal beads from his rear-view mirror, holds them in his hand like bits of broken safety glass.
The glass beads are sharp enough to cut him only if he holds them tight, and so he does not, instead opening his fingers to let their bits of luminescence spill in a musical shower of grief and loss against the pavement.